Brain tumors: main types and symptoms

Brain tumors: main types and symptoms

Brain tumors

The brain is an organ composed of nerve cells or neurons and supporting tissues such as glial cells and meninges. It differentiates three main parts: the brainstem that controls involuntary or autonomous activity (such as breathing), the cerebellum that is responsible for activity such as moving the walking muscles and the cerebral cortex that manages the senses such as sight, functions such as memory, emotions, thinking, personality, etc.

Brain tumors originate from the uncontrolled growth of brain cells.

Brain tumors can occur at any age and doctors do not know the exact cause of brain tumors.


  • 1 Malignancy of brain tumors
  • 2 Gliomas
  • 3 Meningiomas
  • 4 Pituitary or pituitary tumors
  • 5 Brain metastases
  • 6 Neuropsychological disorders

Malignancy of brain tumors

Although such tumors are popularly known as brain tumors, not all brain tumors are cancerous. Cancer is a term reserved for malignant tumors.

Malignant tumors can grow and spread aggressively, dominating healthy cells by taking their space, blood and nutrients. They can also spread to distant parts of the body. Like all body cells, tumor cells need blood and nutrients to survive.

Tumors that do not invade nearby tissues or spread to distant areas are called benign.

In general, a benign tumor is less severe than a malignant tumor. But a benign tumor can still cause many problems in the brain by pressing nearby tissue.

They can be divided into primary tumors, or originating in the central nervous system, and secondary tumors, that is, metastases from tumors of other parts of the body, often of the lung. Metastases are due to the passage of tumor cells through the blood or lymphatic system.


Gliomas are tumors of the glial cells and are the most frequent brain tumors. It is a type of tumor that occurs in the brain or spinal cord. Its name has its origin in that it arises from glial cells.


Symptoms, prognosis and treatment of a malignant glioma depend on the person's age, the exact type of tumor and its location within the brain. These tumors tend to grow and infiltrate normal brain tissue, which makes surgical removal very difficult - or sometimes impossible - and complicates treatment.

Gliomas do not produce metastases through the bloodstream, but it can spread through the cerebrospinal fluid to the spinal cord.

Symptoms of glioma

The symptoms it produces depend on what part of the central nervous system is affected. It usually causes headaches, nausea and vomiting, seizures and other disorders due to increased intracranial pressure. An optic nerve glioma can cause visual loss. A glioma in the spinal cord can cause pain, weakness or numbness in the extremities.

Types of glioma

Among the gliomas, the most frequent is astrocytoma. Grade I and II astrocytomas are relatively slow growing. Grade IV astrocytoma, or glioblastoma multiforme, is highly infiltrating and of high malignancy, being the most serious brain tumor. Only 10% of patients survive two years after diagnosis.

Another type of glioma is oligodendroglioma, which comes from the oligodendrocytes that form the myelin sheath. It is usually located in the white substance of the frontal lobe.


A meningioma is a tumor that forms in the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord inside the skull. Specifically, the tumor forms in the meninges.It is an intracranial but extracerebral tumor, since it originates in the arachnoid tissue of the meninges and adheres to the dura.

These tumors are often slow growing and up to 90% are benign (not cancerous).


These tumors they do not usually invade the brain, although they can compress it. Being well delimited, they can be removed with relative ease.

Meningioma symptoms

When meningiomas are small (less than 2 cm) they do not usually produce symptom and are often discovered later in autopsies. When large tumors can cause symptoms, and these depend on the size and where they are found. The most common are:

  • Seizures
  • Progressive spastic weakness in the legs
  • Incontinence.
  • Increased intracranial pressure.

Pituitary or pituitary tumors

In the pituitary gland, hormones are produced that regulate the organs and glands of the body, such as:

  • Thyroid gland
  • Kidney glands
  • Ovaries
  • Testicles

Tumors that form in the pituitary gland are rare and generally non-cancerous or benign. Most are also considered "functional", which means they produce hormones.

The adenomas or pituitary tumors are usually benign. They are formed by secretory cells of some of the hormones secreted by the anterior pituitary gland and, thus, the symptomatology is related to an increase in the secretion of some of the pituitary hormones.

For example, prolactinoma can cause amenorrhea and infertility in women, and impotence in men. Secretory growth hormone tumors will cause acromegaly and diabetes. ACTH secretory tumors will cause a Cushing syndrome.

Brain metastases

They are tumors from cancers of other parts of the body, usually lung, breast, skin or kidney. Being very fast growing, they often give more symptomatology than the primary tumor, and it is not unusual to detect metastasis before the primary tumor.

The symptoms that can occur are very varied and will depend on the brain region where it is located, the main symptoms include the following:

  • Intense and persistent headache that didn't exist before
  • Memory loss, impaired discernment ability and difficulty solving problems
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures
  • Changes in vision, double vision, reduced vision
  • Speech difficulty
  • Decreased coordination, clumsiness, falls
  • Rapid emotional changes or strange behaviors
  • Feeling of general indisposition
  • Lethargy
  • Numbness, tingling, pain and other changes in sensation
  • Vomiting with or without nausea
  • Weakness in an area of ​​the body

Neuropsychological disorders

As we have already seen, usually brain tumors can affect brain function in four different ways:

  • Increasing intracranial pressure
  • Causing seizures
  • Compressing brain tissue
  • Through the secretion of hormones

The increased intracranial pressure It is due to the growth of a formation that occupies space in a closed compartment, such as the skull. This mainly causes headaches and vomiting.

The convulsive crisis They are the starting form of many brain tumors. The presence of the new formation disrupts the biochemical balance of brain tissue and causes epileptic seizures. Generally, these crises can be controlled with anticomicial medication, which the patient should continue to take even after the tumor is removed.

The brain tissue compression It can cause a very diverse symptomatology. For example, tumors that grow at the base of the skull usually give visual problems, due to compression of the visual pathways or optic chiasm. These effects are especially important in rapidly growing tumors, since they are usually accompanied by edema, due to the increase in the permeability of the endothelial cells of blood vessels near the tumor. In this way, these tumors displace the surrounding brain tissue, causing dysfunction of the affected brain structures. In these cases it is not uncommon to observe distant effects, the result of the compression of neighboring structures in the tumor area.

Sometimes, for example, we will be able to observe aphasia in patients with tumors in the right hemisphere, since the growth of the tumor compresses the left hemisphere, and causes dysfunction of their linguistic regions.

With fast growing tumors, the patient may have a significant neuropsychological involvement, or even appear in confusional state. Much of this symptomatology, however, disappears quickly after an antiedematous treatment, as it reduces the understanding of neighboring structures.

The slow growing tumorsOn the other hand, they allow the brain tissue to adapt progressively to its presence, and sometimes no symptomatology is observed until the tumor does not have a considerable size, years after having begun to grow.

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